It’s been a while since I’ve had a GTI on the show. Instead, I’ve been testing the halo Golf R model over the past several years. But that’s a $40,000 car, minimum. Meanwhile, the Golf GTI slots in from the mid-20s to mid-30s with front-drive performance that’s long since been the gold standard. Now in its 3rd model year since the 2015 redesign, the entire Golf family receives its first major freshening for 2018. But that car isn’t quite here yet, so it’s this 2017 GTI you’ll find on your dealer’s lot.
It’s available in 4 flavors; the entry-level S, new for 2017 Sport, the SE I have here and the top-of-the-line Autobahn which is the only way to get the adaptive chassis control. This SE adds leather seating, the awesome sounding Fender Premium Audio System, a big sunroof, auto headlights and rain sensing wipers for a base MSRP of $31,710.
Take a pass on the standard 6-speed manual in favor of the 6-speed automatic and it’ll add $1,100. Lastly, my tester opts for the Driver Assistance Package including Adaptive Cruise Control, Auto Emergency Braking and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert for a total of $33,405.
All but the base GTI S now receive the Performance Package as standard. That means you get the larger front and rear brakes from the higher-performing Golf R, a more advanced torque-sensing limited slip differential for improved traction and performance, and a 2.0-liter turbo with modified programming that holds peak torque for an extra 200 rpm, bumping horsepower from 210 to 220 as long as you feed it premium unleaded.
As compared with the Golf, the GTI benefits from a lowered sport suspension with thicker anti-roll bars and here, rides on optional max performance summer tires at no additional cost. Settle into the long-trip comfortable sport seats, grab hold of the flat-bottomed sport steering wheel and bask in the glow of VW’s hallmark excellent forward visibility and driver-centric ergonomics; these are the kinds of traits that make the driver to car handshake so inviting. Fire up the engine and it’s immediately evident that the GTI is a car that wants to be driven. There’s a Sport mode that affects 6 different vehicle parameters including the engine sound, whether fake or not, is convincing and enjoyable. It sounds great, both from inside and out. Plus, it’s 0-to-60mph time of under 6 seconds feels ever faster with a quick hitting 258 pound-feet of torque which also provides for immediate passing power on the highway. Launch control, 2-stage stability control and a fun, paddle shifting dual clutch DSG transmission keep the good times rolling.
High levels of driving pleasure and everyday practicality make the GTI a huge winner. Small on the outside but big on the inside, the GTI delivers everything a driving enthusiast wants in a sporty, front-drive hatchback. It’s really quick to react, craves a curvy road and gives the driver that in-control feeling that’s imperative. You’ve got to love a direct connection to the road however because this non-adjustable suspension is constantly communicating, but all of VW’s intrinsic driving characteristics are found right here.
It’s fun-to-drive, period. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. But the GTI is more than just a 1 trick pony. It’s your everyday driver, with usable rear seats, adjustable cargo floor and enough wide open space to easily accommodate a bike. Plus, the gas mileage is excellent; I averaged 29mpg for the week and it will accept regular unleaded. The 2018 model gets the larger, crisper touchscreen but this one still has smartphone integration, satellite and HD radio and the cool Sports Gauges Screen among others. The driver information display is customizable, as well. Red ambient lighting imbues the interior with a very cool nighttime appearance. Speaking of which, the adaptive LED front lighting provides spectacular visibility plus it just looks great. There are heated seats but no automatic climate control and my well-worn tester has a few creaks and rattles that make you wonder if VW’s poor dependability ranking has merit.
2017 GTIs are incentivized to move so if a hot hatch is calling and the 2018 updates don’t wow you, now is the time.